Trades, Prospects and a lil mo' Wily Mo

Joe Mammy knows who he wants as his fourth outfielder. He just doesn't know how to get him.

As you may have read (and if you haven't you should) Brian Walton and I have been chatting up an idea he proposed back in the spring for a fourth regular outfielder. I half-ways suggested that perhaps So Taguchi had come around enough to be a reliable plug for the aging trio of starters we have now. Brian had about 120 starts in mind, however and I was optimistically thinking 80 or so.

I countered that if we were going to seriously pursue a fourth regular to play nearly everyday and not just as a hyper-situational guy that we should take the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Currently the Cards don't have a reliable right-handed power guy available off the bench—so a big ol' righty would be nice. Secondly only Edmonds is under contract beyond this season. Walker has a pricey option and seems to be mulling hanging it up at the end of this season anyway. Sanders, well, Reggie isn't getting any younger so he's not likely to be a long-term solution.

I proposed that if the Cardinals were looking for a fourth regular that the most obvious choice would be a player like Wily Mo Pena—currently the fourth outfielder for the Reds. He's young, he's right-handed and he can absolutely mash the ball. What's more he's young and could be given a multi-year contract to ease the free agent/retirement exodus we'll probably be looking at this October/November. Add a year of experience hanging with Griffey in Cincinnati and round it out with Reggie, Jim and Larry in St. Louis and you've got a recipe for a kid who will add some youth, hard work and maturity in the outfield beyond '06.

As always, the question becomes: what prospects are we willing to send to another team in order to keep us going instead of developing players within our own system. Sadly when looking to bolster the Cardinals I've come to just assume that any aid other than bullpen/bench players will be coming from another organization.

You can look at that situation one of two ways: we're continuing to sell off what we know we have for what we think we're getting. Credit where credit is due: Walt Jocketty has shown many a master stroke in turning semi-touted prospects into class veterans who produce. However, unless you're the New York Yankees (and, apparently, even the Yankees haven't even been the Yankees…) you can't buy your way out of a bad trade hole but have to live with it, warts and all.

The other view is slightly more cynical (and partially stolen and then twisted from Ray Mileur) that there really is no such thing as a prospect. In a world of baseball parity how many teams can really afford to have a rookie taking a roster spot and trying to figure out how to pitch at the major league level and maybe managing a .500 record? The teams working with rookies in the rotation do so out of financial necessity, not because the idea of plopping a 22 year-old off the bus from AAA on the mound makes them feel good. Position players are less volatile but pitching wins titles.

There are exceptions, of course, but it seems the course of the Cardinals (and a number of other teams in the league) is let the teams trying to rebuild have all the kids they want in hopes being competitive a season or two down the road and let the rest fortify their positions with the best talent they can afford. While I was surprised to see Danny Haren get moved in the offseason, I have a hard time feeling too bad about the move that gave us Mark Mulder (5-1, 3.44 ERA) in exchange for Haren (1-5, 5.32 ERA) and Kiko Calero (who's currently on the DL) and a prospect who's not likely to see the majors for another year or two at the earliest.

Probably the biggest loss teams in the league are going to feel is the emergence of the Washington Nationals. Once the lowly Montreal Expos served as a kind of AAAA level where players could work out their game until they were weeded out or became good enough to move to a franchise with actual fans. It was the great proving grounds for over a decade where the likes of Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Andres Galarraga, Tim Raines, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Vlad Guerrero and Carl Pavano were showed how to play the game under good managers without the distraction of people in the stands or big-time contracts.

While teams like the Pirates and the Royals seem to perennially make their contributions to the talent pool in the name of payroll, the game has changed. Granted we're still only halfway through May, but with smaller divisions, the introduction of the wild card and more consistency through the league the number of buyers come trade time seems to be growing while sellers seem to be, at best, fixed. The game is evolving and perhaps the days of relying on your farm system are dwindling or at least changing. And like it or not, we're either ahead of the curve or heading towards disaster.

And I still don't know what it would take to get Wily Mo Pena into Cardinal red this season.

You can write to Joe Mammy at Joe@Joe-Mammy.com


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